Political Intelligence

Holiday Fruitcake

Revenge is a DISH best served…

In early November, the tiny North Texas burg of Clark agreed to officially rename itself DISH, Texas. In return, all of the town’s 55 homes will receive 10 years of free satellite television from the DISH Network and its parent company EchoStar Communications. The deal proved wonderful fodder for national media outlets and blogs, most of which happily mocked Clark’s decision to join such locales as Half.com, Oregon, and Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, among the ranks of towns that have turned themselves into municipalities of corporate marketing.

The man least pleased with the name change is L.E. Clark, who incorporated the town five years ago in Denton County just north of Dallas-Fort Worth and named it after himself. Mr. Clark has been fielding a lot of calls from reporters lately. “Isn’t that story about worn out by now?” he asked when reached by phone. Well, no, actually. As it turns out, the real reason the town changed its name had little to do with DISH or corporate marketing or even free access to all five incarnations of ESPN, but rather a more purely human motive—spite.

Clark, the 71-year-old owner of an airplane and RV dealership, served as mayor of Clark, Texas, for the town’s first five years. Even in such a small community, Clark soon developed a nemesis—Mitch Merritt, who owns the RV and mobile home park. They clashed frequently over land-use, water, and sewage issues. “He sued me I don’t know how many times in five years,” Clark says. Two county grand juries investigated Clark after complaints from Merritt (no charges were ever filed). Unable to win in court, Merritt tried the ballot box. He won a referendum to have his RV park de-annexed from the town. Then the feud grew to Lifetime movie-of-the-week proportions. Mitch Merritt’s 30-year-old son, Bill, a wealthy Dallas attorney, bought a double-wide in town eight months before the mayoral election and filed to run against Clark.

Last May, Bill Merritt beat Clark by a single vote, 40-39 (that’s votes, not percentages). Clark filed suit, claiming that as many as 10 of Merritt’s 40 votes were cast fraudulently by people who no longer lived there, but county officials refused to overturn the election. It wasn’t a smooth transfer of power. After ceding the mayor’s office (such as it is) to Bill Merritt, Clark ripped the town’s flagpole out of the ground in front of city hall and carted it home with him.

One of Bill Merritt’s first acts in office? You guessed it: “Several people have said they want a new name [for the town], and I’m not opposed to it,” Merritt told a Dallas Morning News reporter back in July. That’s how tiny Clark, Texas, wound up in DISH Network’s 10-city naming contest. As for the burg’s namesake, Clark is still bitter that his nemesis has seized power and rechristened his town after a satellite TV network. He did benefit on at least one count. Asked if he too gets free satellite TV, Clark said, “You bet. That’s the only thing I got out of five years of work was a free DISH.”

Ruling the Journal Way

The Texas Supreme Court’s recent decision that the state’s public school finance system is unconstitutional has drawn a fair amount of national media attention. So it wasn’t surprising that The Wall Street Journal devoted an editorial to the ruling on November 29. What the Journal editors wrote, however, probably shocked most anyone who actually has read the majority opinion, especially the seven members of the Supreme Court who produced it.

The editorial begins predictably enough, given the Journal’s conservative bent. It reads: “What was surprising and welcome was the Court’s unanimous ruling that the Texas school system, which spends nearly $10,000 per student [actually, it’s $7,142 per student—well below the national average, but let’s not quibble over the WSJ’s numbers], satisfies the ‘adequacy’ requirements of the state constitution. Most remarkable of all was the court’s declaration that ‘more money does not guarantee better schools or more educated students.'”

But then the editorial board dives down the rabbit hole by raising the issue of school vouchers. “Even more encouraging,” the Journal writes, “the court endorsed more choices for parents and the state’s 4.3 million school kids. It said flatly: ‘Public education could benefit from more competition.'”

In fact, the court didn’t state that, flatly or any other way. To the contrary, the court went out of its way to say clearly why it wouldn’t address the voucher issue. The court’s full statement reads: “We cannot dictate how the parties to a lawsuit present their case or reject their contentions simply because we would prefer to address others. Perhaps, as the dissent contends, public education could benefit from more competition, but the parties have not raised this argument, and therefore we do not address it” [emphasis added].

How did the Journal editors read so selectively and get it that wrong? Probably because they lifted the quote verbatim from a November 22 press release issued by the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), an Austin-based right-wing think tank. It seems clear that the TPPF was the genesis of the Journal’s editorial. Two word-for-word quotes from the court ruling appear in both the Journal piece and the group’s statement. The Journal editors were also eager to give the TPPF credit for the Supreme Court’s supposedly pro-voucher ruling. The editorial states: “The Texas Public Policy Foundation, which provided much of the academic research for the court, looked at the Edgewood school district in San Antonio, where donors started a privately financed voucher program. The results indicate that not only have the kids with vouchers benefited, but so have kids in the public schools that are now forced to compete for students.”

One tidbit you should know about this supposedly objective research: The San Antonio voucher program that the TPPF studied was created and funded by Dr. James Leininger, a voucher advocate and mainstay Republican campaign donor. He also happens to bankroll the TPPF and sits on its board.

So, to briefly sum up the available facts: The Journal celebrates a ruling that the Supreme Court never made, and then credits the TPPF research of its own board member’s voucher program for buttressing the ruling that the court didn’t make. Eat your heart out, Judith Miller.

Paul Gigot, editor of the Journal’s opinion page, didn’t return two messages left at his office seeking comment. As the Observer went to press, the Journal had yet to issue a correction.

Grinchamentalists

The holiday season began with a clarion call from America’s self-appointed religious police: Another American institution is under attack! It was only a few months ago that the institution of marriage was about to go all wobbly in Texas because homosexuals wanted to use it. It seemed like the number of days marriage had left depended on the political needs of the person doing the talking. Now it is Christmas that needs defending. But it’s not the family get-together and the gifts that are in danger, or even the fellowship epitomized in the story of the birth of Jesus and the ritual of the midnight Mass. It’s the word: Christmas.

A national campaign by the Christian right to force companies and politicians to back away from using the word “holiday” in lieu of “Christmas” is bearing fruit. On November 17, after a year’s boycott, Macy’s sent a letter of capitulation to the Sacramento-based “Committee to Save Merry Christmas.” The missive highlights the company’s “2005 Christmas Campaign,” which includes using “the word Christmas” in its TV advertising jingle and print ads. In addition, the windows in the company’s flagship store in New York City—a town well known for its piety—will be themed “Christmas Time in the City.”

“We hope that you and your committee will be pleased with Macy’s Christmas campaign to include Merry Christmas,” wrote Louis Meunier, executive vice president.

Manuel Zamorano, chairman of the Committee to Save Merry Christmas, praises Macy’s and says the group will now turn its attention to Sears. “They have got to make the decision,” says Zamorano. “Is their claim of diversity important to them or is our concern of honoring Christmas greater?”

The campaign to save Christmas has spread thanks in part to right-wing bloggers and professional bullies like Fox’s Bill O’Reilly. The acerbic O’Reilly—Bill, please put us on a hit list like you did Dallas Morning-News columnist Macarena Hernandez, we could use the publicity—claims there is an “anti-Christian bias in this country” that “is more on display at Christmas season than any other time.”

Jerry Falwell, whose brain seldom gets in the way of his mouth, has jumped in as well. In a recent edition of his Falwell Confidential newsletter, he lauded U.S. House Speaker Denny Hastert (R-Illinois) for restoring the word “Christmas” to what has in recent years been called the “Capitol Holiday Tree.” The Christmas crusaders have also focused their attention on a Lowe’s in Austin, Texas, that had the temerity to advertise “fresh cut holiday trees.”

Now, put aside the fact that the whole deal with the tree probably dates back to the Druids or some other decidedly unchristian religion. In fact, many Biblical scholars believe that Jesus was probably born in October. Ignore the bit about the Founding Fathers wanting to keep church and state separate. And what remains is the question: What’s wrong with being inclusive? Is it that they just don’t want to share the holiday?

Zamorano insists it’s not about exclusion. “Nobody is tying to hurt or denigrate or insult anyone,” he says. “When somebody says ‘Merry Christmas’ to you they are trying to bless you.”

The way he describes it, it’s about getting something back from companies that cash in on the holiday. “They inundate us with all that information to come to their stores and to buy their merchandise as presents to exchange in the Christmas celebration and they refuse to say Merry Christmas in their stores, when the make-it-or-break-it aspect of their entire industry is how they do during Christmas,” he says. “What do they want us to do, just say, ‘it’s shopping time, come and get it?'”

Not surprisingly, nary a peep from the heckling class, the high-dollar pastors, and the pandering politicians on the commercialization of Christmas.

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Published at 12:00 am CST
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